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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Pepperdine Bans Post-season Play for Men's Tennis, Two Other Sports; Bouchard Named to Canada's Fed Cup Team; Paige a Two-Sport Star

Pepperdine University today banned its men's tennis, volleyball and baseball teams from post-season play this year after the school discovered irregularities in its administration of financial aid. The school has reported its findings to the NCAA, and while that governing body investigates, Pepperdine has decided to keep the three teams out of post-season competition.

The men's tennis team, ranked eighth in the country this week, has two seniors on the roster, Stuart Keplar and Alejandro Moreno, who will not get another chance at the West Coast Conference or NCAA tournament. The conference also supplied the scenario for the conference championship coming up later next month, which will decide the automatic NCAA berth, now that Pepperdine has instituted this ban.

The conference explanation mentions the baseball team is not eligible for the NCAAs, but doesn't spell that out explicitly for tennis, but I believe that's just an oversight. A ban on post-season competition would certainly be expected to include the NCAAs.

The women's tennis team at Pepperdine is not affected. It goes without saying this is a huge loss for the sport, the athletes and the program. While this seems a drastic step, if it can help in averting NCAA sanctions, it may prove to be the most prudent approach.

The complete release can be found at Pepperdine's website.

In somewhat happier college tennis news, UCLA has announced that former Bruin Marcel Freeman has been selected for induction into the ITA Collegiate Hall of Fame. There are usually 8-12 inductees every spring, and the full list has not yet been released, but individual mentions pop up here and there. Quoting from the UCLA men's tennis newsletter:

Marcel was the 1982 ITA Player of the Year and the 1982 Pac-10 Conference Player of the Year. He was a four time All-American from 1979 to 1982. The ITA Hall of Fame Enshrinement Banquet will be May 25th held during the National Championships hosted by Stanford.

Recent Copa Gerdau champion Eugenie Bouchard has been named to the Canadian Fed Cup Team, which plays Slovenia in July. The 17-year-old from Quebec, on the team for the first time, will join Rebecca Marino, Stephanie Dubois and Sharon Fichman in trying keep Canada in World Group II after a loss to Serbia in February. See the complete article from the Ottawa Citizen here.

I had heard in Mobile that Nolan Paige was playing high school basketball and this article from the USTA New England website confirms it. Paige, a junior, also plays high school tennis at Hopkins School in New Haven, Connecticut, and this spring the team will be going for its second straight New England Preparatory School Athletic Council "B" title. Paige won the New England section's US Open National Playoff last summer.

Speaking of the US Open National Playoffs, two of the sectional qualifying tournament entries close next week: the Southwest on Monday, April 4th, and the Eastern, which had one of the biggest draw sizes last year, on Wednesday, April 6th. See the website for more information.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cypers Commitment Announcement; International Spring Championships Wild Cards; Roland Garros Jrs. Fact Sheet

I tend to concentrate on Division I tennis in my coverage, but being from Kalamazoo, I do get some exposure to Division III tennis, and I try to follow, at the very least, the major tournaments. Thankfully, there's the Division III tennis blog to provide the extensive coverage (although that's only men's tennis) I'm not capable of delivering. I have now done my first commitment announcement for a Division III player however, speaking with Jonathan Cypers about his decision to attend Amherst this fall. Amherst coach Chris Garner, an assistant at Colorado and then Ohio State, has done a terrific job there in his three plus years, taking the team to consecutive NCAA title games. With that immediate success his excellent reputation has only grown, and he has been able to draw four- and five-star recruits to the school.

But he is not the only Division III coach who has been successful in recruiting highly ranked players. Tomorrow, Tennis Recruiting will feature Rhiannon Potkey's profile of Warren Wood, the five-star recruit ranked 58th in his class, who will be attending Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, coached by Paul Settles. My article on Cypers is available today at the Tennis Recruiting Network. They have begun their spring signing coverage, leading up to signing day on April 13th, and I'll have another announcement article that week.

The wild cards for the ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships have been released, although with late withdrawals, all of the wild cards may not need to be used. Because the Claremont tournament this week is a Grade 4, there is no special exempt for those finalists according to ITF regulations, so the tournament likes to reserve wild cards for them.

Boys 18s:
Mackenzie McDonald
Dennis Mkrtchian
TJ Pura
Jordan Daigle

Girls 18s:
Allie Kiick
Taylor Townsend
Sabrina Santamaria
Chalena Scholl
Mia King
Jacqueline Crawford
Alyssa Smith

Girls: Rhianna Valdes
Boys: (had entry problems)
Luis Patino of Mexico
Edward Nguyen of Canada

Updated acceptance lists can be found at the ITF junior website.

The 16s wild cards are:
Kaitlyn McCarthy
Elizabeth Profit Elizabeth
Andie Daniell
Deiton Baughman
Martin Redlicki

The updated 16s acceptance lists appear on the tournament website at usta.com.

And finally, the fact sheet for the Roland Garros Junior Championships is now out at the ITF junior website. The tournament begins the same week the NCAA individual championship ends, so I will not be able to follow the early stages quite as closely as I would like. Entries close on May 3rd.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Order Restored: Stanford Women Reclaim Top Spot in ITA Rankings; USC's Sanchez, Johnson No. 1 in Singles; Qualifying Complete in Pelham 25K

After victories over UCLA and USC this past weekend, the Stanford women have finally regained the No. 1 spot in the ITA/Campbell rankings. The only undefeated team in women's Division I, Stanford had inexplicably been relegated to Mo. 2, with Florida, a team they had defeated on a neutral court, ahead of them. Beginning this week, another "best win" is added, until the nine best wins are counted as of April 19th, so the rankings should become more reflective of actual strength with each passing week. Stanford hosts No. 13 Arizona State on Friday, and travels to No. 10 Cal-Berkeley on the 16th, but they aren't likely to stumble in either of those. On April 23rd, the USTA National girls team will come to Palo Alto to compete, and although the junior roster is not yet finalized, it promises to be an interesting encounter. After Stanford and Florida, the women's rankings are North Carolina(3), Duke(4), Miami(5), UCLA(6), Georgia(7), Michigan(8), Baylor(9) and California(10).

The Virginia men remain undefeated and at the top of the rankings, with their toughest conference tests coming up this weekend, when they host No. 9 Duke and No. 15 North Carolina.

That Jaws soundtrack you hear is the music accompanying the approach of two-time defending NCAA champions Southern California. The Trojans are now second in the rankings, after convincing defeats of No. 6 Cal-Berkeley and No. 12 Stanford last weekend. After Virginia and USC, the men's rankings are Ohio State(3), Tennessee(4), Texas A&M(5), California(6), Texas(7), Pepperdine(8), Georgia(9) and Duke(10).

In the individual rankings, USC's Maria Sanchez and Steve Johnson occupy the top spots. Following Sanchez are Jana Juricova of Cal, Kristy Frilling of Notre Dame, Hilary Barte of Stanford and Denise Dy of Washington. That's four of the top five for the Pac-10. After Johnson on the men's side comes Alex Domijan of Virgina, Blaz Rola of Ohio State, Rhyne Williams of Tennessee and Michael Shabaz of Virginia.

In doubles, Boris Conkic and JP Smith of Tennessee hold down the top spot for the men; Josipa Bek and Keri Wong of Clemson are ranked No. 1 for the women.

For the complete rankings, see the ITA rankings page.

Results from the Pelham $25,000 Pro Circuit event's final round of qualifying have been posted. Chichi Scholl, Julia Boserup, Shelby Rogers and Krista Hardebeck are the young Americans who have reached the main draw. Hardebeck, who is the defending champion at the Grade 1 International Spring and Easter Bowl championships next month, will lose a lot of points by not playing those, but if she can keep her WTA ranking above 350 (it's 338 now), she will receive automatic entry into the junior slams.

In the few main draw matches that were played today, wild cards Jan Abaza and Allie Kiick were defeated. Abaza lost to Christina McHale, the No. 4 seed, 6-2, 6-3, while Kiick was beaten by No. 2 seed Evgeniya Rodina of Russia 6-3, 6-3. There are four Top 100 players in Pelham, including No. 1 seed Melanie Oudin, who took a wild card into the event to prepare for next week's Family Circle Cup, also played on Har-Tru. In addition to Oudin, Rodina(76), Czech Renata Voracova(92)(who plays Hardebeck next), and McHale(98) make for a very strong field for a $25,000 prize money tournament.

For complete results and draws, see the Pro Circuit page at usta.com.

It appears that rain and cold prevented any play today at the $15,000 men's Futures in Oklahoma City. Bjorn Fratangelo, who qualified on Monday, will be in action Wednesday, as will wild cards Dane Webb, Mitchell Krueger and Christopher Haworth.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bouchard, Monteiro Win Copa Gerdau Titles; O'Koniewski Named Talbert Award Winner; California ITF Stretch Begins in Claremont

Eugenie Bouchard of Canada and Thiago Monteiro of Brazil picked up their first ITF Grade A titles yesterday at the Copa Gerdau in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Bouchard defeated No. 15 seed Viktoria Malova of Slovakia, whom she had lost to last week at the Banana Bowl, 6-1 6-2 in the final. In the semifinals, the third-seeded Bouchard beat top seed Irina Khromacheva of Russis, getting revenge for a second round loss at last year's Eddie Herr.

I've been watching Bouchard's results closely since she won the Eddie Herr 16s title in 2008 as a 14-year-old and I thought she was on her way to the Top 10 of the ITF Junior rankings when she won the Pan American Closed B1 the following year. She displayed such toughness against Ester Goldfeld during that cold and windy final in Tulsa, but the injuries and illnesses she overcame on that day persisted, derailing most of her 2010 season. Bouchard, who turned 17 last month, started out well this year, beating Lauren Davis at the Australian Open before falling to Monica Puig in the semifinals, and has now reached the Top 10, rising to No. 6 this week.

Monteiro, 16, didn't distinguish himself on hard courts, losing in the first round of the Eddie Herr, Orange Bowl, and Australian Open, but his results picked up this spring on clay. He won the Asuncion Bowl two weeks ago, and although he barely survived Great Britain's Kyle Edmund 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(8) in the Copa Gerdau semifinals, the No. 6 seed had enough left to take out top seed and world No. 2 Hugo Dellien of Bolivia 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. Monteiro's win puts him at No. 11 in the junior world rankings.

In the doubles, Marco Aurei Nunez of Mexico and Kaichi Uchida of Japan, the sixth seeds, won the championship over eighth seeds Luke Bambridge of Great Britain and Gonzalo Lama of Chile 7-6(1), 6-7(4), 10-5. The girls doubles championship went to second seeds Domenica Gonzalez of Ecuador and Montserrat Gonzalez of Paraguay, who defeated seventh seeds Aneta Dvorakova and Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic 7-5, 6-3.

The four recipients of the Bill Talbert award, the National Sportsmanship award presented annually by the USTA, are usually announced at the USTA's spring semi-annual meeting, but the recipients frequently know much earlier and local stories often precede the official announcement (the USTA meeting is this weekend in Naples, Fla.). That's the case with this Island Packet article on Molly O'Koniewski, the Hilton Head resident who will be playing for the University of Virginia this fall. O'Koniewski and her family will be invited to attend the Hall of Fame ceremony this July in Newport, Rhode Island, which, from what I've heard from all the previous winners, is one of the highlights of their tennis careers. Congratulations to Molly and to the other three winners, whose names I'll post as soon as I know them.

The California ITF swing began today at the Claremont Grade 4, now in its second season on the US schedule. Top boys seeds are William Kwok, Mikhail Vaks and Richard Del Nunzio. The top three girls seeds are Monica Turewicz, Gabby Andrews and Kyle McPhillips. The draws and order of play can be found at the USTA ITF site. I will be covering the International Spring Championships next week in Carson and the Easter Bowl the following week in Rancho Mirage.

Also of interest from today is Sloane Stephens' win in doubles at the Sony Ericsson Open. Stephens and Belgium's Yanina Wickmayer, who received a wild card into the doubles draw, are now into the quarterfinals after their 1-6, 7-6(9), 10-7 victory over No. 7 seeds Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Meghann Shaughnessy. According to this article from the WTA site, Stephens and Wickmayer saved four match points.

And the Lauren Davis article from USTA magazine that I mentioned last week is now available online at usta.com.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Why Don't NCAA Tennis Championships Produce Butlers and VCUs?

Like every other sports fan in the country, I've been captivated by this weekend's improbable runs to the NCAA Divison I Final Four by Butler and Virginia Commonwealth. Butler, a 8 seed, and Virginia Commonwealth, an 11 seed, were obviously not expected to be anywhere near Houston next weekend; Virginia Commonwealth was one of the teams required to win a "first round" game to make the final 64, but the Colonial Athletic Conference member has now taken out teams from the Pac-10, Big East, Big Ten, ACC and Big-12. College basketball experts like Jay Bilas of ESPN said after Selection Sunday that VCU had no business being in the tournament. Butler, although a finalist last year, lost its best player to the NBA, and the Horizon League is certainly not a conference that would attract much interest from blue chip recruits.

Although there are obviously differences between the two tournaments, the NCAA Division I Tennis Championships also has 64 schools (not 68 like basketball this year, but close enough) vying for the team title, but Cinderellas like these two (and CAA's George Mason in 2006) are rare to non-existent at the tennis championships in May.

Because I've only been following college tennis closely since 2005, my perspective isn't exactly historical, and even in recent years, there have been few "chalk" winners in tennis. The UCLA (2005), Pepperdine (2006), Georgia (2008) and Southern California (2009) men were not favorites going into the tournament, but their titles could hardly be deemed shocking. The women's champions have been less surprising in that span, primarily because perennial powerhouse Stanford has taken three of the six, although Georgia Tech (2007), UCLA (2008) and Duke (2009) were not the top seeds in their championship seasons. But excepting perhaps Pepperdine, a West Coast Conference school, all these champions are from major conferences, with strong tennis traditions (and Pepperdine certainly is on par with the others in that respect, regardless of their conference).

I went back to look at the list of men's NCAA champions and finalists to see if there had been such a Cinderella that I wasn't aware of, and lo and behold, the eye-opening finalist in 2000 is none other than Virginia Commonwealth. According to this article on the Stanford website, VCU was a 17-32 seed in the tournament, which isn't quite as impressive as an 11 seed in the basketball tournament (which equates to 41-44, since there are four of each number), but unprecedented in my limited experience.

In the women's list of champions, there's nothing comparable to that VCU appearance in the final.

Why are there so few Cinderellas in Division I college tennis? Why would there be more parity in basketball than in tennis? I welcome your thoughts. And please remember, you must use a name, not the anonymous option, to have your comment published.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Easter Bowl Acceptances Feature 12 Former Champions; Pro Circuit Returns with Qualifying in Oklahoma City & Pelham

I had an opportunity to look through the acceptances at the Easter Bowl, which begins two weeks from tomorrow, and noticed the names of many past champions that I've covered in the past five years, all of them playing in the 18s, the ITF Grade B1.

From 2007, we have 14s champions Lauren Herring and Emmett Egger; from 2008 14s champions Sachia Vickery and Michael Rinaldi and 16s champion Ellen Tsay. 2009 14s champions Mackenzie McDonald and Brooke Austin are entered, as are 16s 2009 champions Shane Vinsant and Caroline Price. Three of last year's champions return: 18s winner Bjorn Fratangelo, 16s champion Kyle McPhillips and 14s champion Gabrielle Andrews. Krista Hardebeck, Gordon Watson and Jordan Belga, the other three 2010 champions, are not listed as competitors, but the eight wild cards have yet to be named.

Orange Bowl runner-up Grace Min is entered, as is Pan American Closed champion Madison Keys. Vicky Duval, who lost a tough three-setter today in the Grade A Copa Gerdau semifinals, has entered, as has 16s Orange Bowl champion Allie Kiick. Alexios Halebian, Marcos Giron, Dennis Novikov and Mac Styslinger join the former champions as contenders on the boys side. The TennisLink site has the complete list of the 56 boys and 56 girls who have been accepted.

As I scanned the 16s, the following names caught my eye: Stefan Kozlov, 14s finalist last year; TJ Pura, the current 16s Winter Nationals champion, Gage Brymer a former 14s Winter National champion, Nikko Madregallejo, a 14s Easter Bowl finalist in 2009 and Benjamin Tso, the reigning 14s Hard Court champion. The girls 16s features Jamie Loeb, the current 16s Winter Nationals champion, 2010 14s champion Jessie Lynn Paul, 2009 14s Eddie Herr champion Spencer Liang, 2010 14s Easter Bowl finalist Kimberly Yee and Josie Kuhlman, who won a qualifying wild card into the WTA Family Circle Cup, which begins next week.

The boys 14s entries are led by Les Petit As winner Henrik Wiersholm and include Francis Tiafoe, Spencer Furman and 12s gold ball winners Robert Levine, Reilly Opelka and Anudeep Kodali. The girls 14s feature Junior Orange Bowl 12s champion Nicole Frenkel, 14s Winter National champion Maria Smith, Maria Shishkina, the 2009 Eddie Herr 12s champion, and Kenadi Hance and Julie O'Loughlin, who were on the US team that traveled to Great Britain and France for Teen Tennis and Les Petits As tournaments this winter.

For the complete list, again minus the wild cards, see the TennisLink site.

After a two-week hiatus, the Pro Circuit is back with a $15,000 tournament in Oklahoma City for the men, and a $25,000 tournament in Pelham, Alabama for the women The first round of qualifying for the men began today, with several juniors advancing. Bjorn Fratangelo beat Shane Vinsant 6-1, 6-1 a rematch of the semifinal in last year's Pan American Closed, which Vinsant won. Andrew Korinek, Alexios Halebian and Harrison Adams also moved into the second round of qualifying. According to the tournament notes, Mitchell Krueger, Dane Webb, Chris Haworth and Devin Britton have received main draw wild cards.

In Pelham, Krista Hardebeck, Grace Min, Jessica Pegula, Chichi Scholl and Shelby Rogers are seeded in the qualifying, which begins on Sunday. According to the tournament notes, main draw wild cards have been given to Allie Kiick, Jan Abaza and Alexandra Mueller.

For complete draws, see the Pro Circuit page at usta.com.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Registration Underway for US Open National Playoffs; Collegians Reach Third Round at Sony Ericsson; Pac-10 Action Heats Up This Weekend

The USTA is again offering a US Open qualifying wild card to the winner of the a National Playoff this summer. After sectional qualifying is complete, the 16 men's and 16 women's winners will compete in a single elimination tournament, this year at Yale University, to determine who will receive a wild card into the US Open qualifying. Last year's winners were Blake Strode and Alexandra Mueller.

Added this year is a MAIN DRAW US Open wild card for one mixed doubles team, who will go through the same process: sectional qualifying and a 16-team tournament at Yale. Because this is a main draw wild card, it's a more enticing prize, and I would think that many graduating college players will be looking for suitable partners for this opportunity. It should be especially attractive to international players, who know they have no chance of receiving a wild card from the USTA regardless of their performance in the NCAAs. It has been announced that ESPN's Mike Greenberg and Chris Evert will compete as a team in the Eastern sectional tournament April 16-22 at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

The entry fee still strikes me as too high at $125 for singles, $150 for team in doubles, with membership in the USTA required, and with the disappointing participation numbers last year, I was hoping the USTA would reduce the cost for 2011. It will be interesting to see whether there are more participants this year, and how popular the mixed competition is. The first sectional event is in the Southwest section, in just a few weeks, with the closing date for entries April 4. For complete schedules, rules, eligibility etc., please see the US Open website. Juniors are welcome, as long as they are 14 years old.

Three of the four men's semifinalists from the 2007 NCAA individual championships are through to the third round of the Sony Ericsson Open. Kevin Anderson (Illinois) beat No. 24 seed Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, Somdev Devvarman (Virginia) downed No. 31 seed Milos Raonic of Canada 7-6(5), 7-5 and No. 30 seed John Isner (Georgia) outlasted Igor Andreev of Russia 6-4, 5-7, 7-6(2). Wild card James Blake and qualifier Alex Bogomolov also had wins over seeds today, with Blake defeating No. 27 Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(6) and Bogomolov surprising No. 5 seed Andy Murray of Great Britain 6-1, 7-5.

For complete results, see sonyericssonopen.com.

In college tennis, there are quite a number of big matches this weekend in the Pac-10. The No. 2 ranked Stanford women remained undefeated with a 6-1 win over No. 8 UCLA in Los Angeles. The Cardinal meet 13th-ranked USC on Saturday. The No. 10 Cal women beat USC 5-2 today and will play UCLA on Saturday. And aside from the Big Four, Arizona State, now ranked 16th, has inserted themselves in the conversation. The Sun Devils defeated No. 27 Washington 5-2 today, and already have a win over Cal.

The Stanford men, ranked 8th, lost to No. 3 USC in Palo Alto 4-2. Although there's not a story up yet, I think the weather caused the doubles to be played last, and only if necessary to decide the match. USC will play No. 12 Cal on Saturday. Cal beat No. 13 UCLA today 4-3, with all three doubles matches decided in tiebreakers. UCLA will play Stanford on Saturday.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Duval Reaches Quarterfinals at Copa Gerdau; Sock Drops Sony Ericsson Debut; Vallverdu to Coach Murray; Alex O'Brien Update

Vicky Duval reached the quarterfinals of the ITF Grade A Copa Gerdau with her win today in Porta Alegre Brazil. Duval, the No. 14 seed, defeated No. 4 seed Daria Salnikova of Russia 6-1, 4-6, 6-1. She will play unseeded Olga Ianchuk of Ukraine Friday. Tristen Dewar, the only other American remaining in singles after two rounds, lost to No. 6 seed Danka Kovinic of Montenegro.

At the Sony Ericsson Open, positive results were hard to come by for Americans. Qualifier Jamie Hampton, playing in her fourth match since Monday, lost to No. 21 seed Andrea Petkovic of Germany 6-2, 7-5, Melanie Oudin fell to No. 29 seed Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia 6-1, 6-3 and Bethanie Mattek-Sands lost to top seed Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 7-5.

Wild card Jack Sock was the only American man in action, other than Ryan Harrison, who lost late this evening to Rainer Schuettler 7-5, 6-2. Sock definitely had his chances against Carlos Berlocq of Argentina, but lost 7-5, 7-6(6) in two hours and 20 minutes. Sock served for the second set and had numerous set points to extend the match, but didn't take advantage of his opportunities against the 71st-ranked player, with Berlocq saving 10 of 13 break points. The stats show that Sock actually won a higher percentage of his second serve points than his first. Sock will be teaming with Harrison in doubles and they will have their work cut out for them, as they play the Bryans in the first round.

For complete results, see sonyericssonopen.com.

Daniel Vallverdu was an All-American at the University of Miami, but he is in the news these days because of his friendship with Andy Murray of Great Britain. The two have been friends since their junior days at the Sanchez-Casal Academy in Spain, and Vallverdu has been serving as Murray's coach/hitting partner in the past several months. This article in The Telegraph is dismissive of Vallverdu's professional ranking, but it really isn't pertinent to the discussion of his suitability as a coach for the world's No. 5 ranked player.

It's ironic that this article, from the Daily Mail, which calls for the resignation of LTA head Roger Draper, criticizes the hiring of high-priced "name" coaches by that organization. Despite the many exclamation points in the headline, the story is a balanced look at the five years of the Draper regime. Is five years enough time? I'm not sure it is, but the lack of confidence in Draper's ability seems to be the crux of the problem. Craig Tiley has had five years in Australia, and although that country is also struggling to produce Top 100 players, there seems less impatience with him among media and tennis fans.

In the where are they now department, this article from the Amarillo Globe News about 1992 NCAA singles and doubles champion Alex O'Brien, who also led Stanford to the team championship that year, explores his life after college and professional tennis. O'Brien, who was inducted into the ITA Collegiate Hall of Fame in 2007, is now a rancher and a banker, who also finds time to coach a bit in Amarillo, Texas. His foundation provides free instruction for young players in his hometown.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

National 18s Spring Championships Recap, Slideshow, Videos

It's time to wrap up the seventh edition of the USTA 18s National Spring Championships. I'm extremely grateful for the absolutely beautiful weather throughout the entire tournament,(especially given the dismal stretch of Michigan gloom we returned to) and the Southern hospitality always in evidence there. My recap for the Tennis Recruiting Network was posted today, if you a looking for an overview/synopsis of my daily coverage.

The brief videos of champions Zack McCourt and Danielle Collins are below. For those of finalists Austin Smith and Catherine Harrison, see the tenniskalamazoo YouTube channel.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Virginia Men Regain Top Ranking, Florida Women Still No. 1; Stephens Qualifies at Sony Ericsson; Copa Gerdau Update

An early post tonight, because I'm attending the Western Michigan Tennis Association banquet, where my husband is receiving the 2010 Distinguished Services award. With all his high school, college and junior tennis work, I am fortunate that he still finds time to take photographs for this website.

I am not able to wait until the action is over at the Sony Ericsson Open, but I can report that Sloane Stephens, who turned 18 two days ago, has earned a spot in the main draw. Stephens, who defeated Australian Sophie Ferguson 7-6(5), 6-1, is joined in the main draw by Jamie Hampton, who beat Belgian Kristen Flipkens 5-7, 6-4, 6-2. US men who have advanced through qualifying to the main draw are Michael Russell, Ryan Sweeting, Robert Kendrick and Alex Bogomolov. Full results can be found at sonyericssonopen.com. Wild card Madison Keys lost 7-6 in the third to Switzerland's Patty Schnyder in first round main draw play this afternoon. Melanie Oudin also played her first round match today and advanced over Julia Goerges of Germany.

The Grade A Copa Gerdau is underway in Brazil, and although Nicholas Naumann actually did make the trip from Mobile to Porto Alegre despite having only Sunday to do so, he is already out of both singles and doubles. Qualifier Richard Del Nunzio and Trey Strobel also lost in the first round, leaving Mac Styslinger as the only US boy in the second round. Vickie Duval, the No. 14 seed, is through to the second round as are Nadia Echeverria Alam and Elizaveta Nemchinov. Denise Starr and Tristen Dewar have yet to play their opening matches. For daily articles on the tournament, see the ITF junior website. Complete draws are here.

This week's Campbell/ITA team rankings have restored Virginia to the men's top spot, which was occupied for one week by Tennessee, who immediately lost to Baylor. Virginia is the only undefeated Division 1 team in the country, and they defeated Tennessee soundly in the final of the Team Indoor, so I don't think there's much of a dispute about who should be No. 1. I also don't think there can be much doubt that the Stanford women should be atop the rankings, but they remain behind Florida, despite their win over the Gators in the final of the Team Indoor.

The complete release on this week's ranking can be found at the ITA website, as can the team rankings, which were the only rankings updated this week.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Stephens, Davis Advance in Sony Ericsson Qualifying; Sock Narrows College Choices; Rogers Prepares for Family Circle Cup

Qualifying for the Sony Ericsson Open began today, with wild cards Sloane Stephens, Michelle Larcher de Brito and Lauren Davis earning three-set wins. Stephens, who is featured in this Sun-Sentinel article, defeated No. 4 seed Evgenyia Rodina of Russia 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, while the 17-year-old Davis beat 36-year-old Jill Craybas of the US, seeded 12th in qualifying, 6-3, 5-7, 6-1. (Davis is featured in separate articles in April's Tennis magazine and USTA magazine). Larcher de Brito came back to eliminate No. 3 seed Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia 2-6, 7-5, 6-0. The three teenagers need one more victory to advance to the main draw. Stephens plays unseeded Sophie Ferguson of Australia, Davis gets unseeded Anastasiya Yakimova of Belarus and Larcher de Brito meets No. 21 seed Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands.

Christina McHale, seeded 23rd, advanced to the final round of qualifying with a 6-2, 6-2 win over wild card Carina Witthoeft of Germany, while Jamie Hampton of the US upset No. 2 seed Rebecca Marino of Canada 6-1, 7-5, and Irina Falconi beat No. 15 seed Sandra Zahlavova of the Czech Republic 4-6, 6-1, 6-3. McHale, who reached a career-high ranking of 98 this week, must beat No. 1 qualifying seed Jelena Dokic of Australia to advance to the main draw.

Wild card Alex Domijan lost his first qualifying match to No. Julian Reister of Germany 6-2, 6-3, and Jordan Cox, also a wild card, lost to Marinko Matosevic of Australia 6-0, 6-2, but a host of other American men advanced to the final qualifying round, including Robert Kendrick, Tim Smyczek, Donald Young, Mike Russell, Alex Bogomolov and Ryan Sweeting.

The main draws were revealed today, and wild card Madison Keys will play Patty Schnyder of Switzerland in the first round on Tuesday. Ajla Tomljanovic of Croatia, another teen receiving a wild card, drew a qualifier, as did wild card Ryan Harrison, who is up to a career-high ATP ranking of 130. Bernard Tomic of Australia, also a wild card, will open against Pablo Andujar of Spain. The Australian is reporting that Tomic is in the US without his father, John, who is his primary coach.

If you missed my tweeted link earlier, this article from the Lincoln Journal Star provides an update on Jack Sock's possible college plans. Sock, who received a wild card into the Sony Ericsson main draw, will play Carlos Berlocq of Argentina, who has a current ATP ranking of 72.

Complete draws and the order of play can be found at the tournament website.

This article in the Charleston Post and Courier reveals that 2010 USTA Girls National champion Shelby Rogers has been working in Las Vegas with the Adidas team in preparation for the Family Circle Cup next month. Rogers received a main draw wild card into her hometown tournament.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Domijan Receives Sony Ericsson Qualifying Wild Card; ITF Grade A Copa Gerdau Begins Monday; Pro Circuit and College News

Today's a travel day for me, so I don't have the opportunity to be as thorough as I would like in catching up on all the other tennis action that occurred this week, while I was concentrating on National Spring Championships.

Qualifying for the Sony Ericsson Open on Key Biscayne begins on Monday, and although the draws aren't yet posted, wild card selections have been updated, with the biggest changes in the men's qualifying. University of Virginia's Alex Domijan was added, Filip Krajinovic of Serbia is no longer on the list, with Jesse Levine, Jordan Cox and Chile's Nicolas Massu also later additions. On the women's side, Ajla Tomljanovic of Croatia, who won last week's $25,000 Pro Circuit event in Clearwater, received a late main draw wild card, as did Petra Martic. In the women's qualifying, Canadian Stephanie Dubois received a wild card that wasn't initially announced. For the revised wild card list, see the tournament website.

One of the biggest events on the ITF junior spring calendar starts on Monday, the Copa Gerdau in Brazil. Vickie Duval, Denise Starr, Tristen Dewar, Elizaveta Nemchinov, Blair Shankle and Nadia Echeverria Alam are the U.S. girls listed in the entries. Mac Styslinger, Trey Strobel and Nicholas Naumann are U.S. boys on the entry list, but Naumann just played in Mobile yesterday, so I'm not sure he'll be in Brazil.

Irina Khromacheva of Russia and Hugo Dellien of Brazil are the top seeds. The ITF preview story can be found here.

It's been quiet on the Pro Circuit front with no events for men or women last week or this, probably due to the big WTA/ATP combined events. But there were five men's challengers this week, with two former college stars capturing doubles titles. Former University of Virginia All-American Treat Huey teamed with Vasek Pospisil of Canada to take the doubles title at the $35,000 tournament in Canada, and former NCAA doubles champion Robert Farah of USC won the $50,000 event in Costa Rica with partner Juan Sebastian Cabal. Both teams were the top seeds. Former Vanderbilt All-American Bobby Reynolds is in the singles final in Canada. For all the challenger and futures results, see the ATP website.

At the $10,000 women's event in Mexico, former Trojan Amanda Fink is in the singles final.

I haven't been able to keep up with all the college tennis news this week either, but a couple of results got my attention. The No. 53 Kansas State women beat No. 10 Baylor in Waco, in one of the season's biggest surprises, although No. 42 South Florida's 5-2 win over No. 15 Notre Dame isn't far behind.

The Pepperdine men stopped the streaking Texas A&M team 4-3 in Malibu, Ole Miss took out Florida 4-3 in an SEC conference match and LSU defeated Michigan 5-2.

In today's big match the No. 2 Virginia men beat No. 6 Texas 5-2 in Austin, without Domijan, who is preparing for SEO qualifying. The complete results should be available shortly at texassports.com.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Collins Wins Second Consecutive USTA 18s Spring National Championship; McCourt Takes First Gold Ball with Comeback Win

©Colette Lewis 2011--
Mobile, AL--

Three weeks ago, Danielle Collins and Zack McCourt had lost early at the National Open in their home state of Florida, so taking home gold balls at the USTA 18s National Spring Champions less than a month later stretched even their vivid imaginations. But Collins' 6-1, 6-1 win over Catherine Harrison, and McCourt's 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory over Austin Smith proved again that fortunes can change quickly in the game of tennis.

"We didn't have the best experience in Tampa two weeks ago," said Collins, a 17-year-old from St. Petersburg. "I think we cried together. We were sulking, it was bad."

McCourt was even less diplomatic in his assessment of his experience at the tournament.

"That National Open was disgusting," said McCourt, an 18-year-old from Weston. "I couldn't serve, couldn't get the ball in the court. I was actually thinking how in the world am I going to play a Supernational in Mobile? What am I doing?"

But once he arrived in Mobile, McCourt, a No. 17 seed, changed his focus.

"I realized that, at this level, playing smart is going do more than your great ground strokes and big serves. Mentally, you have to be the strongest if you're going to do this."

McCourt proved he had taken his own advice to heart in the opening set, when he lost the first five games to the unseeded Smith, yet stayed positive and went on to win the next four. Nervousness might have been a logical explanation for McCourt's slow start, given that he had never been in a National final before, but he said it was actually the opposite. Nerves were a problem for him overnight and when he woke up, but if anything, he said he was "too loose" when play actually began.

Even though McCourt fell short of a complete comeback when Smith broke him serving at 4-5, the message was sent.

"I feel like I got lucky actually to get away with that set," said Smith, a 17-year-old from Georgia. "It was so big for him, the momentum change. Even though I'd barely got the set, he'd won four games and I'd won one. He just started making more balls, stayed on top of the baseline, stayed on top of me, never giving me any time to set up for any shots. He played really well."

McCourt went up 4-1 in the second set, pressuring Smith's serve, which he broke four times, including the last game of the set. McCourt, who went three sets in his semifinal win over Nicholas Naumann, thought that experience gave him an advantage.

"Not only was he kind of mentally worn out, he hadn't had any three-setters the whole tournament," said McCourt, who will play for Princeton in the fall. "Since he hadn't had any three-setters to give him confidence in the third set, I thought I would have the edge mentally, because I would know how to handle it."

Smith struggled with his service return and his backhand in the final set, while McCourt kept the pressure on by making Smith win points, committing few unforced errors while still playing aggressively. In the final game of the match, McCourt's serve was there when he needed it. Down 0-30 courtesy of two Smith winners, McCourt climbed back to match point with an ace, which was accompanied by a very loud "come on". A McCourt forehand long made it deuce, but two more service winners and McCourt had the victory, one he was calling "surreal" even 30 minutes later.

"I always believed that I could win at this level," said McCourt, who trains at the Bill Clark Tennis Academy. "I just never knew how or when I would do it. I think just learning how to play smarter just gave me the opportunity to play up to my ability. When I finally had a strategy and a go-to game plan in the big moments, that really made the difference."

McCourt's friend Collins had already found the gold ball formula, with her most recent one coming last year in Mobile, but after a very difficult fall and winter, with injury and illness keeping her from training and playing, she is back in top form.

Against No. 8 seed Catherine Harrison, Collins was confident and commanding, with all the lengthy games coming on Harrison's serve. A match with a score of 6-1, 6-1 usually doesn't extend to 80 minutes, yet the dominance Collins showed was primarily at the match's key moments.

"I played so well today," the sixth-seeded Collins said. "It was different today, because a lot of my matches in this tournament, I was really thinking about it, but today I was on a whole other planet, reacting to whatever she did, and I think that worked better for me, because I was more relaxed."

When facing the punishing two-handed ground strokes of Harrison, relaxation is not the usual response.

"She hits the ball so hard," said Collins. "It's scary. She hits harder than some of the guys I play with. I would hit a return, and boom, it's right back to me, so I would have to get ready right away. She was putting so much pressure on me, playing aggressive, so that forced me to come up with better shots."

Harrison lost her serve in the first game of the second set, and just couldn't get her serve to behave throughout the match.

"It was great earlier in the week, my second and third matches it was really strong, but I just really struggled with it today," said the 16-year-old from Germantown, Tennessee. "I just couldn't go for my first serve confidently, and when you can't do that, you're not going to do very well. But Danielle played really clean, she just made almost no errors, taking every opportunity."

In the final game, Harrison's second serve also let her down, with two double faults, including on match point, allowing Collins to claim her 14th straight win in Mobile.

"I love being here," Collins said when asked what was the key to all her success at the National Spring Championships. "It's not like a big city like Miami, with the beach and the shopping centers. It's just so peaceful and calm, and wherever you go everyone's smiling. I think it gives me a more relaxed environment, which helps my tennis."

Collins and McCourt not only left with the gold balls, but with the tournament sportsmanship awards.

In the other matches played on Saturday, top seed Kyle McPhillips took home the bronze ball with a 6-4, 7-6(2) win over Lynn Chi, a 17 seed. The boys bronze ball went to No. 4 seed Hunter Reese, who beat No. 17 seed Nicholas Naumann (4) 3-6, 7-5, 6-2.

Unseeded Taylor Townsend took the girls consolation title, avenging her main draw loss to No. 3 seed Brooke Austin 3-6, 6-3, 10-8. Fifth seed Hunter Callahan took the boys consolation title with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Garrett Gordon, a 17 seed.

For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Reigning Champion Collins Goes for Second Straight Against Harrison, Smith and McCourt Will Decided Boys 18s National Spring Championship Saturday

©Colette Lewis 2011--
Mobile, AL--


There are three rookies in the finals of the 2011 USTA 18s National Spring Championships, and one veteran, defending champion Danielle Collins. Catherine Harrison, Collins' opponent Saturday morning, has never reached a USTA National final in singles, and neither Austin Smith or Zack McCourt have had an opportunity for a gold or silver ball.

Collins, the sixth seed, downed top seed Kyle McPhillips 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 on another warm and sunny day at the Mobile Tennis Center, and after two bouts of bronchitis this winter and a slashed artery in her ankle last fall, Collins has finally regained the form that saw her win the Spring National title in 2010.

In the opening set of the semifinal, Collins came out swinging, making very few unforced errors and rifling her backhand crosscourt and down the line. McPhillips depends on her consistency and a court sense that punishes any thoughtless shot, but in the opening set, she made more errors than usual and was often caught flat-footed by the pace of a Collins shot. The second set immediately tilted in McPhillips' direction, as the 16-year-old from Ohio broke Collins immediately and challenged in the Floridian's every service game. The break between the second and third sets, new in USTA 18s tournaments for 2011, gave Collins a chance regroup, but not in the expected way.

"I don't really think it helps to get coaching, unless you're playing just awful," Collins said. "The whole second set I was so tense, I was missing, and I'll admit, I went off the court and I was crying. It was really emotional for me and I put a lot of pressure on myself, which was dumb. You can't go out there having a death grip on the racquet or you're going to miss every one."

In the third set, the moonball was a popular shot choice for both players, and many of the rallies were very lengthy, with little to separate the two. Collins went up 3-1 and 5-2, and served for the match at 5-3, but never reached match point, with two McPhillips winners and an ill-conceived drop shot getting McPhillips back on serve at 4-5. But McPhillips couldn't take the opportunity Collins offered her, hitting a forehand long and double faulting to make it 0-30. Collins was an easy overhead from three match points, but she botched it, then hit a backhand long to make it 30-30. Rather than dwell on her errors, Collins prepared for the next point, where she pulled McPhillips wide, causing her to net a backhand. On match point, McPhillips' sliced forehand landed long, and Collins cited her composure in the late stages as key to her victory.

"Everybody knows I'm pretty short-tempered and tennis means a lot to me, so I get angry," the 17-year-old Collins said. "But I said, don't get angry, you'll lose if you get angry, just chill out. I kept telling myself, you've got this, chill out, you're good."

Collins will play Harrison for the third time, having won the previous two meetings at the National 18s Clay Courts in Memphis, Harrison's home town.

Harrison may be playing in her first National Championship singles final, but it's not as if she is unfamiliar with the big stage. The 16-year-old, who hits a two-handed forehand, was a finalist at the 16s Orange Bowl last December, and she also played before a large crowd of local supporters in the main draw of the WTA Cellular South Cup in Memphis last month.

In her 7-5, 6-1 semifinal victory over 16-year-old Lynn Chi, a 17 seed, Harrison saved a set point serving at 4-5, shaking off a double fault at deuce that put her on the brink of losing the opening set. She hit a confident overhead winner to get it back to deuce and on game point, executed a perfect slice that drew an error from Chi.

Chi can hit the ball as hard as anyone, and when she was on her rhythm, Harrison had no advantage in the pace department. But Chi would suddenly make a series of errors, and that's what she did at 5-5, giving Harrison a chance to win her fourth straight game, and the set, which she did.

"In the second set, she started making a lot more errors," said Harrison. "She didn't seem like she wanted to work the points as much in the second set. She was going for more earlier, and that was resulting in more errors. Her serve really went downhill in the second set."

Chi was broken in the first game of the second set, and trailed the rest of the way, as Harrison continued to take advantage of Chi's serving problems to take control of the points. A final break leading 5-1, and Harrison was into the final, hoping to add a gold ball in singles to the gold ball in doubles she won at last year's 16s National Hard Courts.


In the boys draw, it would have been difficult to predict a final featuring unseeded Austin Smith and Zack McCourt, a 17 seed, but both have played excellent tennis throughout the week, and one of them will take home his first gold ball on Saturday.

Smith defeated fellow Georgian and No. 4 seed Hunter Reese 6-3, 6-3, the sixth consecutive straight-set win for the 17-year-old right-hander.

Breaking Reese in the first and last games of the opening set, Smith kept the pressure on in the second set, allowing only one easy hold, and forcing Reese to save break point after break point. Serving at 3-4 in the second set, Reese saved three more of them, but the seven-deuce game ended with Smith finally converting his opportunity, with a big forehand forcing an error.

"On the deuce points, my main focus was just to make returns, basically hang in there," said Smith. "I wanted to capitalize when I did get my ad, which took me a few times, but eventually it happened."

Smith had stuck to his strategy of moving players around throughout most of the tournament, but changed his focus a bit against Reese.

"I think his backhand is better than his forehand, and he likes to be on the move a lot," Smith said. "He can mix up some angles, he's good on the run, so I played him a little bit more up the middle, instead of angles, trying to go through the court more than angles today."

Serving for the match at 5-3, Smith survived both a net cord in Reese's favor and his own forehand error at 40-15. Showing no sign of frustration, Smith converted his second match point, when Reese hit a backhand long, assuring that he would not add to his bronze ball collection.

"I have three singles bronze balls. I've gotten to the semis a few times, but haven't gotten it done. I was kind of nervous going in; I wanted to get through the semis so bad. Playing for a bronze ball was not the goal."

McCourt's 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 win over Nicholas Naumann, also a No. 17 seed, was as close as the score would indicate. Naumann has quite an array of shots, both offensively and defensively, and McCourt began to see them all in the second set.

"At 4-3 he started to get to everything," said the 18-year-old Floridian, who is attending Princeton in the fall. "He was coming up with these crazy shots, these crazy volleys, making me play another ball. It was a little frustrating for me at first, because he was making a lot of erratic errors, but then when he started not missing, hitting bigger shots, better shots, better balls, I had to adjust, and I didn't really adjust until the third set."

Trailing 2-0 in the final set, McCourt held and broke for 2-2, forging a 4-3 lead. McCourt received a gift from Naumann, when he double faulted on game point to give McCourt a chance to serve out the match, but McCourt couldn't take it. He lost the game at love, but didn't panic, and broke Naumann for the second consecutive time to close out the match.

"I had been returning really well, I'd been doing really well on his serve, so I didn't lose confidence," McCourt said.

McCourt recalled his two previous meetings with Smith.

"I played him in the 10s and lost 1 and 1, and I played him in the 14s and lost 6 and 6," McCourt said. "So I haven't played him in about four years, so it should be fun to see how we stack up now as opposed to all those years ago."

McCourt is one player who is not surprised to see Smith in the final.

"I know he's got the game to do really well, and obviously has had some great wins in his career so far," said McCourt, who was playing in his first National semifinal today. "It's cool, there'll be a new gold ball winner finally, instead of like Bjorn(Fratangelo) and Jack(Sock) winning every freaking tournament."

In the doubles finals this afternoon, McPhillips and her partner Skylar Morton, the No. 4 seeds, collected their second gold ball together, defeating Harrison and her partner Kaitlin Ray, the fifth seeds, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4. McPhillips and Morton, the 2010 Easter Bowl 16s champions, trailed 3-1 in the final set, but won five of the next six games to earn the title.

"It was like a roller coaster," said McPhillips, who played six sets of tennis in the midday heat without showing any signs of fatigue.

"We played good in the first set, pretty solid," Morton added. "The second set was downhill and the beginning of the third was more downhill, and then we got it back together."

In the boys doubles final, Anton Kovrigin and Jason Luu won the battle of the No. 9 seeded teams, beating Brett Clark and Gordon Watson 6-3, 6-3.

Today, Kovrigin helped Luu collect a gold ball that he had prevented him from winning back in the 2009 16s Clay Court Championships.

"He has a silver ball and I have a gold ball," said Kovrigin, who won the title with Joe Dorn, while Luu finished second with Quoc-Daniel Nguyen as his partner in Delray Beach.

Having reached the finals of a Level 2 in their only previous tournament together, Luu and Kovrigin thought they had a chance to go deep in the Spring Nationals.

"We thought maybe we'd do well here, and it turned out we did," said Luu, who will be attending Cornell in the fall.

"Our games complement each other," said Kovrigin, a Vanderbilt recruit. "He's more of a net player, and I like to go from the baseline, rip the ball."

Against Clark and Watson, the pair thought the wind, while not strong, but noticeable, may have contributed to their win.

"We returned very well today, with a lot of spin, so we made it tough for them to volley," Luu said.

"They have great hands, and the wind takes their hands away," Kovrigin said."

The third place in boys doubles went to No. 2 seeds Eric Johnson and Mackenzie McDonald, who defeated No. 9 seeds Harrison Adams and Naumann 6-3, 6-2. Meghan Blevins and Mary Jeremiah, both future Oklahoma State players, won the girls bronze balls, beating Mia King and Taylor Townsend 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 in a battle of unseeded teams.

The girls consolation final on Sunday will feature Townsend against No. 3 seed Brooke Austin, a rematch of their round of 16 match two days ago, which Austin won in three sets. The boys consolation final has No. 17 seed Garrett Gordon taking on No. 5 seed Hunter Callahan for fifth place.

For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Smith Takes Out Top Seed Stineman, Harrison Downs Austin in Spring Nationals Quarterfinal Action Thursday

©Colette Lewis 2011--
Mobile, AL--

Austin Smith has yet to lose a set at the USTA 18s National Spring Championships, and that didn't change on Thursday, even when facing top seed Robert Stineman. The unseeded 17-year-old played outstanding tennis from start to finish to post a 6-4, 6-2 win over Stineman and earn a semifinal meeting with fellow Georgian Hunter Reese on Friday.

On another day of perfect weather, the quality of play nearly equaled the conditions, with very few errors from either Stineman or Smith as each held to 4-4 in the first set. Smith got the first break at that crucial stage, and held to take the first set.

"He was up 40-30, and I moved around a little, changed my position, and I think I kind of got in his head," Smith said. "Honestly, I think that was one of the biggest things, moving around on his serve a little bit, giving him different looks. He started missing more than he usually does."

Stineman's first serve usually sets up the point for him, whether he is getting free points or finishing the floating returns at the net. But Smith was making the returns on Stineman's best serves, and continued to keep the pressure on with big ground strokes, intelligently placed.

"Before the match that was my whole goal, because I know he likes to come in," Smith said. "If I could keep him back, I felt I could play heavier and stronger, get a lot of short balls, and really capitalize if I could keep him back deep."

Smith has long has a reputation as a great ball-striker, but sustaining a consistently high level of play has proven difficult for him. There was no letdown today, however, as he went up 4-0 in the second set before Stineman got his only break of Smith's serve at 4-1. By then, it was just too late for the Stanford recruit to halt the momentum, as Smith broke in the next game and served out the match with a minimum of drama, hitting two service winners and, on match point, a relaxed putaway of a defensive floater.

Stineman said that he couldn't say that he played badly, and was quick to credit Smith for the quality of tennis he displayed throughout the match. As for Smith, he is pleased his form has held as he goes deeper and deeper in the draw.

"I started the tournament out pretty strongly and kept it throughout, so that's been big for me," Smith said. "Getting through in straights every match so far has also helped conserve energy. I'm happy with how I'm playing, but I'm not done yet, so I hopefully will keep it going."

Despite both being from the Atlanta area, Reese and Smith have not played recently.

"It's been at least a couple of years, I think," Smith said of their previous meeting. "It was tight, like three sets. I think he got the better of me that day."

Reese, a redshirt freshman at the University of Tennessee, had the shortest of the four quarterfinal matches, beating another of Georgia's junior standouts, No. 17 seed Vikram Hundal 6-2, 6-0.

In the bottom half of the boys draw, two 17 seeds made their way into the semifinals, with Zack McCourt downing No. 13 seed and 18s Winter National champion Eric Johnson 7-6(2), 6-3, and Nicholas Naumann ousting No. 5 seed Hunter Callahan 7-6(2), 6-7(3), 6-3. Naumann served for the match at 5-4 in the second set, but never reached match point, and in the subsequent tiebreaker was unable to hold serve even once, with all three of his points on Callahan's serve.

With the match over two hours and 30 minutes in length, both players looked tired in the third set. Temperatures in the upper 70s and cloudless skies undoubtedly contributed to their lack of energy, but there were no breaks of serve in the final set until Callahan was serving at 3-4. A couple of unforced errors and an unlucky net cord and suddenly Naumann was again serving for the match as it neared the three-hour mark. This time, the 17-year-old Texan made it look easy, serving and volleying on all four points, executing perfectly, as he no doubt wished he had done an hour before.

On the girls side, top seeded Kyle McPhillips got by Meghan Blevins, a No. 17 seed 6-4 6-3. In each set, McPhillips got an early lead, lost it, then recovered, setting up a semifinal contest with 2010 Spring National Champion Danielle Collins, the No. 6 seed. Collins also beat a 17 seed, looking very sharp in a 6-1, 6-3 victory over fellow Floridian Chalena Scholl.

Another 17 seed, Lynn Chi, ended the run of unseeded Sherry Li, taking a 7-6(5), 7-6(4) decision. Chi's opponent in the semifinals will be No. 8 seed Catherine Harrison, who avenged her two previous losses to Brooke Austin, the No. 3 seed, 7-6(5), 6-1.

Harrison led 5-3 in the opening set, but Austin took the next three games. Harrison was serving to get to a tiebreaker, but faced three set points down 0-40.

"When she got up 6-5, 40-0, I said, I've hit eight errors in a row, she hasn't had to hit one winner," said Harrison. "So I said, try to hit to the middle of the court, take away her angles. She missed two backhands and I hit a winner, and then I came back to win the tiebreak."

Harrison described the match as "weird" primarily because most of the rallies were short with errors and winners alternating.

Austin didn't play well in the second half of the tiebreaker, with a double fault, two backhand errors and a forehand into the net at set point sealing her fate.

But after coming from a set and a break behind in against Taylor Townsend on Wednesday, Austin wasn't likely to doubt her chances, even when Harrison took 5-1 lead in the second set.

"Brooke is an amazing fighter, fights for every point" said Harrison. "I actually watched her come back from 5-1 down in the finals of the Atlanta ITF, so I knew she had the mental toughness to do that. I had to pretend that this game was the final game, because she can get on a roll and come back easily."

The last game went nine deuces, with Harrison saving eight break points, and Austin saving one match point with a forehand winner after the third deuce. Harrison finally put three points in a row together when Austin made a backhand error, then sent a forehand long, and Harrison blasted a two-handed forehand winner to convert her second match point.

"I really had to stay focused that last game, and luckily, I pulled it out," said Harrison, who beat her next opponent, Chi, in the third round of the 18s Clay Courts last year.

Harrison will play for a gold ball in doubles on Friday, as she and Kaitlin Ray, the No. 5 seeds, defeated unseeded Mia King and Taylor Townsend 6-0, 6-2 in Thursday's late afternoon semifinals. Harrison and Ray will meet No. 4 seeds McPhillips and Skylar Morton, who downed the unseeded team of Blevins and Mary Jeremiah 6-1, 6-3.

The boys doubles finals will feature two No. 9 seeded teams. Brett Clark and Gordon Watson earned their spot in Friday's final with a 6-2, 6-4 win over No. 2 seed Eric Johnson and Mackenzie McDonald, while Anton Kovrigin and Jason Luu took the only three-setter of the day, beating Harrison Adams and Naumann 6-2, 4-6, 6-3.

For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Top Seeds McPhillips and Stineman Reach Quarterfinals; Third Seed Austin Gets Come-from-behind Win over Townsend at Spring Nationals

©Colette Lewis 2011--
Mobile, AL--

It was another beautiful day for the 16 fourth round matches at the USTA 18s National Spring Championships, with clear skies and just an occasional whisper of a breeze providing the backdrop to the action on the hard courts of the Mobile Tennis Center.

I positioned myself so I could watch both top seeds, with Kyle McPhillips playing Maci Epstein, a No. 17 seed, and Robert Stineman also taking on a 17 seed, Harrison Adams.

I was expecting Stineman would be tested by Adams, who had defeated No. 14 seed Jeremy Efferding in two tiebreakers on Tuesday, but Adams played poorly from the start and never got into the match, falling 6-2, 6-1. Adams is a very vocal player, berating himself and his luck often, but he also talks to himself about strategic decisions and play patterns. He couldn't seem to get over how many game points he failed to win in the 12 games he lost, but at one stage, Adams paid Stineman a very loud compliment. "Does this guy have rockets attached to his feet?" Adams said when Stineman had tracked down yet another volley or drop shot, or cross court angle. Adams, who trains at the John Newcombe Academy in Texas, simply had no answers for Stineman, who used his big advantage in the serve department very well. Next for Stineman will be Austin Smith, the only unseeded boy remaining in the draw. Smith, who has yet to lose a set in the tournament, beat Mitchell Polnet, a No. 17 seed, 6-3, 7-6(6).

Meanwhile, McPhillips and Epstein were having some very long games, and despite the routine sounding 6-2, 6-2 win for McPhillips, the match lasted nearly 90 minutes. With Epstein serving at 2-4 in the second set, she and McPhillips went to deuce so many times that Stineman and Adams played four games, with two changeovers, before McPhillips finally got the break. Epstein, a 17-year-old from Florida, hits with tremendous pace, and her serve is among the best in the girls field, but it was her service games that were extending the match, with McPhillips usually holding easily. McPhillips will face Meghan Blevins, a No. 17 seed, in Thursday's quarterfinals.

Once McPhillips and Stineman were safely through, I turned my attention to the match featuring No. 3 seed Brooke Austin and unseeded Taylor Townsend. Two of the youngest players in the draw, the 15-year-old Austin and the 14-year-old Townsend had just split sets, with Townsend dominating in the first 6-3, and Austin getting out of a tight spot serving at 4-4 in the second, when Townsend had a game point to take a 5-4 lead. But Austin held and broke Townsend, and even with a 10-minute break and the subsequent loss of serve to open the third set, Austin was able to keep her momentum through the final set, which she won 6-2.

"I started trying to attack her serve more, so she didn't get a chance to come in," said Austin, who saw plenty of Townsend at the net, putting away volleys, in the first set. "After that first game (of the third set), when I was literally shaking, I lost my nerves and started playing my normal game."

Townsend didn't look to come to the net as often as she normally does, partly because Austin was hitting the lines and the corners, giving Townsend nothing to work with as far as approach shots; she was too busy defending. Austin thought fatigue may have contributed to Townsend losing the final four games of the match.

"I think she got tired of running back and forth at the end," Austin said. "She kind of ran out of gas and her serve started breaking down."

Austin and Townsend are not just close in age (Austin just turned 15, Townsend will be 15 next month), but are good friends.

"Taylor and I are basically sisters," Austin said. "We met each other at our first national tournament and we've been friends ever since. That was when we were 8, we're 15 now, and we've traveled out of the country together (at the ITF World Junior Tennis Championships, which the US won), we've roomed together, we've been through a lot together.

"It was really hard actually. Last night we were talking on Skype for like a half hour. I think today we were both kind of awkward, didn't know what to say. But I think we'll be fine by tomorrow."

Austin will play No. 8 seed Catherine Harrison, who beat Ellie Yates, the No. 11 seed, 6-3, 6-1. Austin said they have played twice before, once back in the 12s, and more recently, in last year's Kentucky ITF, with Austin winning both in close three-set matches.

For the second day in a row, unseeded Sherry Li came from a set down to take out a seed. Li, who beat No. 2 seed Whitney Kay on Tuesday, outlasted No. 14 seed Tina Jiang 1-6, 6-2, 6-2. She will play Lynn Chi, who defeated No. 9 seed Ronit Yurovsky 7-6(6), 6-3.

Defending champion Danielle Collins rolled past unseeded Mia King 6-3, 6-0 and will meet Chalena Scholl, a 17 seed. Scholl, whose older sister Chichi reached the final in Mobile two years ago, downed Melissa Kopinski, also a 17 seed, 6-4, 6-2.

On the boys side, No. 4 seed Hunter Reese, a 7-5, 6-4 winner over Ashok Narayana, a No. 17 seed, will play Vikram Hundal, a 17 seed who beat unseeded Jared Hiltzik. Zack McCourt, who beat fellow No. 17 seed Connor Farren 6-3, 7-6(4) will play No. 13 seed Eric Johnson in Thursday's quarterfinals. Johnson, the reigning 18 National Winter champion, beat unseeded Brian Page, 6-4, 6-1.

The only three-setter in the boys draw on Wednesday went to No. 5 seed Hunter Callahan, who came back to beat Justin Crenshaw 3-6, 6-1, 6-4. Callahan will play No. 17 seed Nicolas Naumann, who defeated Garrett Gordon, also a 17 seed, 6-0, 6-2.

The doubles semifinals are set for Thursday afternoon. Unseeded Blevins and Mary Jeremiah will play No. 4 seeds McPhillips and Skylar Morton in one match, with Harrison and Kaitlin Ray, the No. 5 seeds, meeting the unseeded King and Townsend.

In the boys doubles semifinals, there are three No. 9 seeded teams in the final four. No. 2 seeds Johnson and Mackenzie McDonald will play Brett Clark and Gordon Watson, and Anton Kovrigin and Jason Luu will play Adams and Naumann.

For complete draws, including consolation, see the TennisLink site.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Both Boys and Girls Second Seeds Come Up Short in Third Round of USTA 18s National Spring Championships

©Colette Lewis 2011--
Mobile, AL--

The USTA 18s National Spring Championships lost two would-be finalists in Tuesday's third round, with second seeds Whitney Kay and Evan Song losing long three-setters on another perfect afternoon for tennis at the Mobile Tennis Center.

Unseeded Sherry Li dropped the first set to Kay, who finished fourth last year at this tournament, but came back to post a 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 win over the future North Carolina Tar Heel.

In the later stages of the match, Li saw her game go to a level she knew she had, but seldom produced in tournament play.

"On a scale of 1 to 10, maybe it was like an 8," said Li, a 16-year-old from Florida. "I don't usually think I play my best, so that was pretty good. I don't think I play my best in tournaments. This time was pretty good, almost perfect."

Li sensed that her mental outlook contributed to the victory.

"I was relaxed the entire time," said Li. "She started to make some mistakes later, and I just kept doing what I was doing. I started hitting behind her a little more in the second and third sets, and my serve was pretty good the whole time. I just played really good."

Garrett Gordon, a 17 seed, immediately put Song on notice, quickly taking the first set, but needed to counteract Song's change in strategy before recording his 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 upset.

Gordon was confident that his game matched up well with Song's, with his recent good play giving an added boost to his prospects.

"He's a grinder, so I just wanted to make a bunch of balls, and when I got the right opportunity to put the ball away" said the 17-year-old from Georgia. "I had to step up and play my own game. I wasn't too worried about him."

Song adjusted in the second set, and began to serve and volley more often, avoiding the rallies that had ended in Gordon's favor throughout the opening set. But after the 10-minute break between sets that is now standard in the 18s age division, Gordon made his own adjustment and ran out to a 5-1 lead. The third set obviously did not end as straightforwardly as the first, with Song winning three straight games to force Gordon to try to serve it out for a second time at 5-4.

"I kind of let up a little bit, and he stepped up pretty well," Gordon said. "I had to get my composure back and just focus."

A double fault on the first point of the final game didn't bode well for Gordon, and at 15-30 he was in a dangerous spot. But Gordon won the next two points, and on his first match point, it was Song who forced the action. Charging to the net after returning Gordon's second serve, Song was in position for a volley winner, but Gordon's forehand pass was just a little too much for him to handle and Song netted the volley.

"It was one of my best wins," said Gordon. "I adjusted in that third set and took care of business."

While Song was battling to stay in the main draw against Gordon, top seed Robert Stineman was also forced to a third set against another 17 seed, Gordon Watson. Stineman had looked ready to roll after taking the first set 6-1, but Watson forced a third set by hanging with Stineman throughout the second, taking a tiebreaker 7-6(3). Stineman took the third set 6-3, but could only be relieved that he had avoided Song's fate.

Girls top seed Kyle McPhillips came through with less drama, beating Katie Goepel, a 17 seed, 6-1, 6-3. Brooke Austin, the No. 3 seed, has rolled to a 6-0, 6-2 victory over wild card Blair Martin, and defending champion Danielle Collins also advanced to the round of 16, with a 6-4, 6-2 win over No. 17 seed Skylar Morton. Aside from Li, there are two other unseeded girls in the round of 16, Mia King, who defeated No. 10 seed Julia Vrabel, and Taylor Townsend, who beat No. 15 seed Madeline Lipp.

The boys draw also has three unseeded players remaining: Austin Smith, Jared Hiltzik and Brian Page.

For complete draws, including doubles, which are now down to the quarterfinals, see the TennisLink site.